22.02.18

Social prescribing ‘must not be seen as alternative to GP investment’

Social prescribing schemes must not be seen as an alternative to investing in GP services, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has argued.

Chair of the college, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, welcomed schemes across the country where organisations are working together to implement social prescribing initiatives that benefit patients and can even free up some GPs’ time, enabling them to care for patients with more complex health needs.

“It's good news to hear about so many schemes across the country where primary and secondary care are working together to implement social prescribing initiatives that are benefitting patients, and having a positive impact on the NHS as a whole,” she said.

However, she cautioned that they “must not be seen as an alternative to investing in our general practice service.”

Social prescribing schemes are designed to support people with a range of social, emotional or practical needs and can involve a variety of activities, which are generally provided by voluntary and community sector organisations – such as volunteering, arts, gardening and sports.

Studies have linked the schemes to improvements in emotional wellbeing, mental and general wellbeing, and levels of depression and anxiety. It can also play an important role in helping people find work.

Responding to NHS England’s recommendations to encourage health and local government sectors to work together to offer social prescribing initiatives, Stokes-Lampard explained that GPs assess a patient’s physical, psychological and social factors when formulating a treatment plan.

“Sometimes, what our patients need isn’t actually traditional medical care; it is encouragement to take an exercise class, or any activity that will get them out of the house and mixing with other people,” she said.

“GPs and other colleagues in their teams will readily recommend these initiatives if they are appropriate and available locally.”

Until recently the term ‘social prescribing’ was not widely used, but it is something that experienced GPs have always done, she added.

In order for the schemes to work well, Stoke-Lampard said that “different sectors of health and social care services must work together constructively, and input from local councils can really help.”

“It is also imperative that there are enough community services that could have a positive impact on our patients’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, to meet demand,” she concluded.

Top image: Horsche

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